14 Greatest Champions League Players Ever
Since the European Cup became the Champions League in 1992 there have been a few players that have become synonymous with the competition. Some through goals, some through sheer volume of appearances, some through huge meal hauls and a couple for all of the above.
Here are the 14 greatest performers in Champions League history…
Ruud van Nistelrooy
He may never have won the Champions League, but Ruud van Nistelrooy made a huge impact on the competition he played in from 1998-2009.
The Dutchman played in Europe’s premier tournament for PSV, Manchester United and Real Madrid, making 73 appearances and scoring, an incredible, 56 goals in the main tournament. Van Nistelrooy was the top scorer in the competition in 2001-02, 02-03 and 04-05, despite United not reaching the final in any of those seasons.
His 02-03 season was especially memorable as he notched 14 goals in just 11 Champions League games before United crashed out to Real Madrid in the quarter-finals. His lack of team success keeps him at the bottom of this list, but his personal performances were superb.
Playing in the Champions League for AC Milan and Real Madrid, Kaka was one of the superstars of European football throughout the noughties. The Brazilian won the competition with Milan in 2007, a season he finished as the top scorer in the tournament with 10 goals from midfield.
Kaka has also been the top assist provider in both 2005 and 2012, laying on 23 goals in his Champions League career. There is a slight feeling that Kaka could have done more in his Champions League outings, but that 2006-07 season, in which he led Milan to glory puts him down as a great in this field.
The Frenchman does not get the plaudits of some of his Real Madrid teammates, but he has been a key component of the hugely successful side in recent years.
Without stealing the headlines, Karim Benzema is fifth on the list of all-time Champions League top scorers with 55 goals in 103 games. He goes into the final of the 2017-18 tournament knowing he can match or leapfrog Van Nistelrooy ahead of him.
The frontman has won the Champions League three times with Real Madrid and could add another to that tally this month. He is undoubtedly one of the great strikers in the tournament’s history.
The iconic Brazilian was a fixtures in the Champions League from the mid-1990s to the late noughties, and racked up 120 appearances in the competition with Real Madrid and Fenerbahce.
Of course it was his time with Real he is best remembered for and he won the Champions League with the Spanish giants, in 1998, 2000 and 2002. From left-back he scored 16 times in the competition, which is some feat in itself.
Ryan Giggs played for Manchester United in the Champions League from 1993 till 2014, which is an absolutely incredible amount of time to be performing at the highest level.
The Welshman managed 141 appearances in the Champions League, winning it in 1999 and 2008, losing out in the final to Barcelona in 2009 and 2011. He has recorded the second most assists in Champions League history with 31.
His sheer longevity in the competition is worthy of recognition, but the levels of success make him one of the greatest ever.
The great Spaniard’s achievements have been surpassed by a few men who have come since, but for a while he would have been in the argument to be the very best Champions League player ever.
Raul scored 71 goals in 144 Champions League appearances, winning it three times with Real Madrid. He was previously the top scorer ever in the competition, out-scoring his contemporaries of his generation – the likes of Thierry Henry, Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo.
The stylish centre-back has four Champions League titles to his name, winning one with Manchester United and three more with Barcelona. He is still only 31-years-old so there is every chance he will add to this haul and challenge to be the most successful player in the competition’s history.
He has played 100 times in the Champions League, notching 12 goals along the way and has been a part of some of the greatest club sides in living memory at Barca.
He has already achieved so much and has a lot more to come.
The midfield maestro has also won the Champions League four times, each one with Barca and has been pulling the strings in each victory. He has twice made the Champions League team of the season and was the top assist provider in the competition in 2010-11.
Iniesta is sixth in the all-time appearance list with 130, but it looks like he will not progress any further up that ranking as he will leave Barcelona this summer. However, there is very little left for him to achieve in the competition.
Iniesta’s midfield partner was equally successful in the Champions League, with four winner’s medals in his trophy cabinet, but having been around a bit longer and picking up a few more appearances just edges Xavi ahead of his pal in this list.
Xavi is third on the all-time appearance list with 151, all for Barcelona, scoring 13 goals along the way. He was an absolute fixture in the latter stage of the competition from the late-1990s all the way until 2015 and was undeniably one of the best players on the planet for that entires stretch.
No one has played more times in the Champions League than Iker Casillas, taking to the field 167 times in total, starting in 1999 and he is still going. The goalkeeper managed most of those with Real Madrid but is still donning the gloves with Porto to this day.
He has played an incredible 15,337 minutes of football in the Champions League and won the tournament three times. He also holds the record for most clean sheets in the competition, managing 58 in total.
No goalkeeper has come close to achieving what Casillas has in the Champions League.
As this is just the Champions League years we have to discount Paulo Maldini’s two European Cup wins before 1992 and all of his fantastic performances before that cut-off point. However, the Italian genius still went onto win three Champions Leagues in his epic career.
Maldini reached six Champions League finals and in 2005 he became the oldest player to score in a final and managed the fastest goal ever in a final. He made his AC Milan debut in the 1984-85 season and retired in 2009 having made 139 Champions League appearances.
Never the biggest name or focal point of any team, Clarence Seedorf managed an absolutely sensation career, making Champions League history in the process.
The Dutch midfielder has won the competition four times and is the only man to win it with three different clubs – Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan twice. He also turned out for Inter in the tournament on the way to making 131 appearances from 1994-2012.
A crucial cog in wildly successful machines, Seedorf holds a record that will be tough to match for any player.
For the career he has had, Lionel Messi should really be top of any list, but he will have to settle for second place on this one. The Argentinian’s Champions League record is madness. He has scored 100 goals in just 125 games, leaving him second in the goal-scoring charts.
The little magician has won the Champions League four times with Barcelona, has been the top scorer in five seasons, and the top assist provider in two more.
Messi is still only 30-years-old and it is scary how much more he could do in Europe’s top competition.
It would take something incredible to out-do Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is the man to provide it.
The sensational Portuguese has scored 121 goals in the competition, more than any other player, and has won the event four times, once with Manchester United and three times with Real Madrid. He has every chance of adding a fifth title this season, which would make him the first man to do so since the Champions League came in.
Not only is Ronaldo a prolific goal scorer, but he is also a provider, putting on more assists than anyone else in the history of the competition – 37. He has also scored more penalties (15) than anyone else in Champions League history.
At 33-years-old he is far from finished and his statistics are going to be almost impossible to overhaul. Or are they, Lionel?